Sneakers have long been an exciting site for sartorial self-expression, with coveted styles and highly anticipated drops rocking the troves of avid fashionistas. sneaker artist Vicky Vuong took the creative potential of sneakers to the extreme, using the Nike AF1s as his favorite canvas for his complex painting practice.
Vuong’s meticulously steady hand and penchant for color have earned him commissions from Los Angeles Rams star Cooper Kupp, as well as a recent invitation from font foundry Monotype to interpret the iconic Helvetica typeface as an NFT. In addition to painting custom sneakers by hand, Vuong co-hosts a podcast with fellow sneaker artist AAPI Ann Duskus called Best foot forward.
I was eager to learn more about this exciting rising star, so I reached out to get the inside scoop on Vuong’s background and why she finds the Nike AF1s such an inspiring canvas.
What is your training in fine arts? Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
I did my bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and my master’s degree in materials engineering, so you could say I’m a scientist turned self-taught artist. My love for arts and crafts grew out of figuring out how to create “things” that I couldn’t afford to grow up. It made me very resourceful.
When and how did you first discover sneaker art?
I painted my first pair of custom sneakers with Sharpies fabric over a decade ago for a family vacation. On a whim, I posted pictures of my sneakers online, and the demand for them was overwhelming. I was painting sneakers in my basement apartment over Christmas while I was finishing up my masters. Now, I’ve been creating sneaker art full-time for almost three years.
Why are you so passionate about sneakers as an artist? What do they offer you as a canvas that other more conventional mediums do not?
The sneakers provide a way for people to understand my story as an artist by wearing a pair of my custom sneakers. I can start by telling a story through the art I create on the sneakers, and the person wearing them can end that story through life experience.
Sneakers are such a unique canvas because you can choose from the limitless number of silhouettes that already exist (which are an art form in their own right); sneakers are made of so many different materials that can be used to enhance your design. But more importantly, sneaker art is a form of artwork that you can travel with. It was exceptionally cool to see people from all over the world wearing my sneakers.
What’s in the Nike AF1s and the Nike Swoosh in particular that you love working with so much?
The timelessness of the Nike AF1 silhouette makes it the perfect sneaker to customize. He turns 40 this year, which means he’s been around longer than I have!
Specifically, I chose the Nike Swoosh because I wanted to train and create without having to buy new sneakers to experiment with. The raised leather swoosh lends itself perfectly to being able to repeatedly paint and erase artwork without ruining the entire sneaker and creating more environmental waste. The narrow canvas challenges me to get creative with what designs I can fit into it. Turns out it’s unlimited! It also encourages others to try this easy technique with me.
Why did you decide to start your own podcast in addition to your artistic practice? What does the podcast platform offer you as an outlet?
I would consider myself a growing artist, and the purpose of the podcast is to share some of my trials and tribulations as I navigate what it means to be a full-time artist/entrepreneur. There are so many mental and physical obstacles that I was unaware of before starting my journey, and establishing yourself in the industry can sometimes feel lonely. I hope my stories will resonate with like-minded artists; we can share funny stories, learn from each other, and most importantly, we can empower each other.
Why do you think your work resonates so much with online audiences?
What does that say about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes?
Sneakers are the way to tell my story as an Asian woman born into an immigrant family; become an artist. A career in art was not only avoided – it was laughable, because the community would see it as a futile endeavor. “You could never have a more respectable and lucrative career as a doctor or a lawyer.” My life before sneakers lived up to someone else’s expectations of success, and I think people resonate the most with my desire to pursue my passion.
I just want to be a kid again, implement ideas I only dreamed of before, entertain others, and be able to support myself financially. I hope that being able to share my works online encourages others to live their dreams and always add a little color to their process.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
I’m obsessed with what I’m currently working on, so it’s still my favorite project. Right now I’m creating a collection of sneakers inspired by many bird species.
What are your goals for your sneaker art empire?
I would love to have a room full of sneaker art that’s not just by me, but by some of my favorite sneaker artists like Melicka (@mlcka) and Zack Kroll (@itsbaldboy). It’s my idea to do it! I love taking on initiatives that celebrate sneaker artists and all the amazing work they do. More importantly, I want to inspire more young people to pursue their passions in sneaker art. When I was younger, I was convinced that becoming an artist would be impossible. I still can’t believe I can do this for a living!